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Man puts Santa in limelight

Pat Shank offers children one more chance to talk to Santa before he heads back to North Pole

December 23, 2010|By KATE S. ALEXANDER | kate.alexander@herald-mail.com
  • Pat Shank cannot recall exactly how many years he has been zipping up the red corduroy jacket, covering his face with silken white ringlets and topping his head with the signature fur-trimmed hat to become Santa Claus for the children of Downsville.
Kevin G. Gilbert

'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, none but Pat Shank was stirring, not even his spouse.

The Ruritan was prepped for an evening of joy that the holiday would bring to each girl and each boy.

When from Shank's front door there arose such a clatter.


"It's Santa, he's quit."

Nothing else seemed to matter.

Shank took up the suit, but this was his plea, "I do it for the community, it's not about me."


Pat Shank cannot recall exactly how many years he has been zipping up the red corduroy jacket, covering his face with silken white ringlets and topping his head with the signature fur-trimmed hat to become Santa Claus for the children of Downsville.  

"It's been, oh, 15 or 20 years," he said. "I honestly lost count."

The Downsville Ruritan Club has hosted Santa on the square in Downsville each Christmas for the last 50-some years, a tradition it continues today, he said.

As Shank tried on the suit Wednesday, he noted that it might be time to invest in a new one.

He said the club bought the suit about 15 years ago, the same year he started wearing it.

It was just two hours before Santa was to appear on the square when a member of the Ruritan Club came to his house years ago with bad news.

"The guy who was going to do it backed down," Shank said.

Being president of the club, the role fell to him that night, he said.

Shank did not anticipate how much he would enjoy greeting the children and hearing their Christmas wishes.

Nor did he expect he'd still be dressing as Santa nearly 20 years later, still answering questions about where he left his reindeer.

"That is the question I get the most, 'Where are your reindeer,'" he said. "I tell them (the reindeer) are in the pasture waiting for me."  

But Shank said he really has a good time being Santa for the club and the kids.

Children will ask for almost anything for Christmas, he said, Barbies, video games, puppies, even the Bible.

Although each child reacts differently to meeting Santa, Shank said the most memorable reaction came from his grandson, Ryan Shank, who at the time was 2 years old.

Shank said Ryan looked puzzled when Santa asked him what he wanted for Christmas.

"He recognized my voice, but not me," he said.  

That is how Shank prefers it.  He might wear the suit but the man standing in the limelight is Santa.

The Christmas Eve event has become a family affair with many people stopping to see Santa after church, Shank said.

Rain, snow, sleet, or bitter cold, he will be out there greeting children, Shank said.

For each child who comes, the Ruritans have oranges and candy.

Shank said the club expects about 100 children will brave the forecasted cold this year to put in one last request with the jolly ol' elf.

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IF YOU GO:

What: Meet Santa on the square

Where: Downsville, at the intersection of Downsville Pike and Spielman Road.

When: Dec. 24, 7 to 9 p.m.

Info:  Children can come see Santa one last time before he heads back to the North Pole for another year.

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